One of my four granddaughters had her fifth birthday party recently, and as I watched the cousins play together, I realized that one day one of them may become CEO of our family business. When my grandfather was running our family flour company in Kansas City, women were not expected — and definitely not encouraged — to enter the business. Granted, I had a brother and two male cousins, so succession was somewhat guaranteed. Things have certainly changed with respect to women in business since then.
Over the past eight years at our Transitions conferences, I have noticed more women serving in leadership roles in their family companies, whether as CEOs, senior managers or family council chairs. Approximately half our attendees are women, particularly in the NextGen category. Today, family businesses are more open to female leadership. Working hours are more flexible to accommodate childcare, even though the workload tends to be the same as in the public arena.
In Family Business Magazine’s November/December issue, we introduced “Family Leaders to Watch,” which celebrates those who work to bring the family together in support of the business. Of the 17 family leaders we highlighted, 11 were women, including Meghan Juday at IDEAL Industries, Brittany Timmons at Canal Insurance Companies and Joanna Morrill at Leupold & Stevens.
In addition to family leadership roles, today more women are holding the top position in the family business. Twin sisters Katie Rucker and Jenny Dinnen are co-presidents of MacKenzie Corporation, each staking out her own niche that capitalizes on her expertise.
Among the other top female executive business leaders who have been profiled in Family Business or spoken at Transitions are Anne Klamar of Midmark, Carol Bernick of Alberto Culver, Maria Luisa Ferré Rangel of Grupo Ferré Rangel and Marcella Kanfer Rolnick of GOJO.
Others who hold management positions include four Yuengling sisters at D.G. Yuengling & Son, their family’s brewery. NextGen member Alex Jackson Berkley has joined her mother, Karen Caplan, and her aunt, Jackie Caplan Wiggins, at Frieda’s, a specialty produce company.
Of course, not all women leaders at family companies are family members. According to Carrie Hall, Americas Family Business Leader at EY, her firm’s research on the world’s largest family businesses “shows that they are advancing women into executive leadership positions at greater rates than their non-family counterparts. While it might be expected women family members would aspire to and achieve leadership positions within the business, non-family women exceeded those of the family by more than three times.”
In general, Hall says, “women are drawn to and flourish in family business environments as they tend to focus longer term and often on measures other than profit first. This includes inclusiveness, sustainability and social responsibility.”
Hall suggests the rise of women in family companies is self-reinforcing. “As more women in leadership serve as role models, younger women can see themselves in the business,” she says. “This has resulted in a significant increase in interest by younger female family members to join the business.” This bodes well for the NextGen in my family!
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